I have no photos from March 8, 2012 and am not sure why this is. I was back in Nicosia and my guess is that I spent the day post-processing everything from my 4-day excursion to the north, as I didn’t bring my computer or have internet access on the side trip. The organizational aspect of Walking Walls was challenging because I often had to balance ‘office’ work (emails, planning, post-processing, writing) with absorbing and collecting all of the content and experiences possible within my jam-packed, low-budget itinerary. I found that making time for the office work was necessary to make me feel productive and balanced, even if it was sometimes hard to give myself permission to do so.
One of the wildest and most distinguishing features of the Buffer Zone is the gradual, yet definitive slide into the overgrown weeds that separate the two sides. It’s not hard to guess why the homes and businesses around the BZ are in disrepair; no one wants to own property on the front lines of an unsettled war. But its important to note that the Buffer Zone is not a clean cut through a swath of Cyprus, it’s more like a disease that taints everything it touches and then some. Cities and neighborhoods can go on with an amputation, but not a festering wound.
I was oddly delighted to find this little cafe less than 50 feet from the Buffer Zone in Nicosia. A lot of the buildings near the BZ were dilapidated and graffiti-covered, their owners having fallen prey to economic hardship when the UN made their location less than desirable. But here was one small establishment making the best of it by styling themselves after one of the most infamous icons of the 20th century. I had to smile.
The parallels between Nicosia and Berlin are so obvious that it is a legitimate marketing tactic to draw a comparison between the UN Buffer Zone and the Iron Curtain. Trading a little historical accuracy in exchange for name recognition, oddball kitsch, and a hip-sounding analogy seems like a decent deal to me.
There is also a prominently placed sign near the Lidra Street crossing, just above the police hut. It bears the name of the city in Greek, followed by “The Last Divided Capital” in English, French and German. The languages suggest that the sign is intended for tourists, but it’s not a marketing ploy; it reads like an epitaph. What, then, is the purpose of the sign? To remind visitors of the severeness of the Cyprus problem? To place Nicosia in the historical record? To align the city with other ‘reunified’ capitals as a message of hope? It made me feel better to note that this sign was affixed to plywood, propped between two buildings; it looked temporary.
Starting over in Cyprus, socially and geographically speaking, was exciting, but difficult. As I also did on my first day in Israel/Palestine, I went on an incredibly long walk, didn’t really interact with any people, but tried to get my body and mind oriented to the space and the problem at hand. I think that in both cases, walking 10 miles was my nervous response to not knowing what else to do, and trying to suck the most out of a day. I came home to a lonely but symmetrical refrigerator.
Today was a travel day, and though I had landed in Cyprus by 9am, I was pretty shelled out by the efforts involved in the airport process. I don’t have any pictures from today, but here are a few random thought sketches.
Waiting on a street corner at 3am, with all of my possessions, for the Sherut to pick me up for the ride to the airport was a terrifying farewell to Nachlaot.
Airport security was not as bad as it could have been, but I’m pretty sure I was shunted into one of the more high-security inspection lines. My stuff was unpacked and inspected for explosive material; my harmonicas were apparently extremely suspicious.
Arriving in Cyprus was amazing. I felt totally relaxed in the airport while waiting for a shuttle to the capital, Nicosia. I was back in Europe, if a distant corner geographically speaking.
I was staying with a classmate’s family, though they were away when I arrived and I had the entire flat to myself, which felt astonishingly luxurious. I had an excellent nap as soon as I settled in.
That afternoon, discombobulated by daytime sleep, I wandered down a street with broken sidewalks to a market where I bought pasta, salad, bread, and bananas. I was surprised by how quiet the city felt and had a hard time orienting myself in the urban landscape. True, it was a residential area, though it seemed sparse and empty after Jerusalem’s fast-paced density. Welcome to the island?
How do maps address divided space and occupied territories?
This map was produced by B’Tselem and shows where the separation barrier has been built, has been approved to be built, and where the green line is. Yes, these are three different places. Naturally, the most complicated part of the map is the area around Jerusalem, where lines snake and weave. It’s just as messy on the ground.
I got this map from a lady in a booth right after the passing through the Lidra Street checkpoint to enter North Cyprus. This cartographer solved an awkward problem by simply omitting all detail in the Republic of Cyprus. Here there be dragons.
This is an official tourist map courtesy of the Republic of Cyprus and a Carleton alum who marked it up for me with helpful notes. The area to the north of the Buffer Zone contains some sketches of streets (I wonder if they’re accurate?) but otherwise notes resignedly, “Area under Turkish occupation since 1974.” I wonder if this phenomenon can be partly attributed to the two sides competing for tourist attention? (Maybe they won’t visit if they don’t know what’s over there..) Every map has an argument.
Unsurprisingly, my maps of Belfast never marked the Peace Walls. The Walls do not denote any sort of change in rules for the powers that be, only for the people that live there, so the Walls are not added to maps. Furthermore, it would be an unsightly blemish to wares in the Belfast Tourist Center, where I acquired this booklet. So, it was up to me to look up the locations I needed to visit, and mark them on my guidebook, sometimes with an R or L for Republican or Loyalist, so I could remember which side was which when I visited. My entire collection of maps is marked up with these lines and notes.
I wonder how someone living in these neighborhoods would map their city or world? Sounds like another project…
Last week, I had an amazing opportunity to visit the Buffer Zone in Nicosia on a UN-escorted tour. For an hour on a chilly morning, Michal, a peacekeeper from Slovakia, showed me the rarely-seen parts of the world’s last divided capital. Photo opportunities were limited, and I was told very seriously, “do not point your camera at the Turkish positions,” but even so, I came away with lots of fascinating stories and pictures. Here’s a sampling:
The view of the Buffer Zone from the edge of the Venetian Walls. Decrepit buildings dominate this heavily militarized strip of land, while everyday life continues no more than 50 meters away.
This building served as a high school until 1974. Now its sandstone walls are riddled with bullet holes as it falls into ruins.
The flags of Greece and Cyprus fly amidst tall grass and crumbling structures. Any changes to the Buffer Zone create military advantages and disadvantages, so it has remained largely untouched to preserve the terms of the cease-fire, if not the historic buildings.
A bathroom in shambles. Residents fled their homes when the fighting started, never to return.
UN Peacekeepers maintain a collection of footballs that have been lost to the Buffer Zone.
An elderly woman named Annie continued to live in this house long after fighting divided the city. Special arrangements and checkpoints were made to accommodate her. When she finally died, soldiers from both sides of the conflicts attended her funeral to pay their respects.
UN Peacekeepers have left their mark on the Buffer Zone, taking advantage of soft sandstone walls to carve a slogan, or the name of their lovers.
Bullet holes still mark the intensity of street-to-street fighting that took place during the Turkish invasion. The entire Buffer Zone feels as though it has been lost to time, and it is easy to imagine a sniper peering through this window as we walk past.
My informative and protective escort, Michal, pauses during the tour. He will serve in Cyprus for another year and enjoys his work, but is not especially optimistic that the Cyprus Problem will be solved anytime soon.